Between post-pandemic and recent inflationary conditions, the last few years have been tough on businesses. As margins continue to shrink, many have navigated drastic course corrections at the risk of permanently shuttering. On the other hand, the same period hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for the consumer. Customers in many industries have experienced the effects of heightened supplier costs, product shortages, and longer wait times.
This upheaval underscores some of the most significant changes to occur in the customer journey over the last decade. Fortunately, there’s clear direction for how to adapt to these changes, using a variety of methods to meet customers where they are and solve for what they need.
Say hello to advanced AI
A lot has changed in the last 10 years, but one of the most unique transitions has been a move away from what was once emerging technology. For a lot of brands in the 2010s, artificial intelligence and chatbots represented a cutting-edge way to respond to customer inquiries in an efficient manner. The only problem is that most bots simply weren’t effective.
This CB Insights report from 2021 provides some context around how and why the bots didn’t meet expectations. Most notably, they couldn’t provide the level of personalization the human on the other end of the conversation needed. This, as one might imagine, left customers more peeved than pleased. According to CB Insights, in 2015, Facebook built a sophisticated AI-powered assistant named “M” to much fanfare at the company. “M” was supposed to be a “fully capable AI virtual assistant,” ready to answer any user questions without exception. By late 2016, the ambitious project was curtailed when it was discovered that only 30% of requests could be completed without human intervention. And even when the bots worked as intended, “the resource-intensive, human-supported model was draining Facebook’s cash, leading to the project’s eventual shuttering.”
In response to customer outrage, most businesses decided to move away from bots, or at least limit their use. It looked like customer service would remain a human-centered domain, with human intervention all but required for quality customer service. But in a recent and rapid 180-degree turn, businesses are once again exploring AI as a reliable support for human customer service agents. Specifically, generative AI bots are the most “intelligent,” currently active AI tools and are a logical next step in effective automated customer service. Generative AI is unique in that the system is able to “learn” information by making connections and patterns throughout astonishingly large datasets.
While there are still notable pitfalls to generative AI such as ChatGPT and MidJourney, there is real potential for properly-trained generative AI bots to perform “such higher-order cognitive work as judgment, insight, moral reasoning, and innovation. This is a far cry from following scripts or handing off customers to other, more knowledgeable CSRs” (Business Insider). Such sophisticated interactions at the start of a conversation with a customer means that once a human does take over the chat, they will already have access to key data points and disposition details. Advanced AI support, if applied strategically and monitored carefully, has the real potential to improve and speed up customer service resolutions.
Get ‘em early and often
In the example above, negative customer experiences prompted marketers to update the journey. But for this next one, we’re flipping the script, with marketers updating the journey to impact the customer experience. The cone-shaped and linear funnel marketers relied on for decades is now dead. With access to advanced tracking and data collection, marketers have moved away from mass marketing efforts and have reshaped the customer journey in favor of personalized experiences.
Engagement now drives strategy, as brands aspire to build deeper, personal and parasocial relationships with consumers. Traditional marketing efforts such as billboards and TV commercials are used to reinforce the connections that brands build with customers, rather than as a means to build a customer base. Even with that justification, it’s likely that a brand running TV ads is overspending for almost zero ROI. Instead, brands deploy highly targeted digital marketing strategies immediately, to reach consumers with personalized messaging from the start of a campaign. Not only are brands focusing on more tailored outreach earlier in the process, they’re also staying with the customer long after purchase. Loyalty and advocacy programs are extending the customer journey in ways that were never really an option before.
Dig deep into the data
So, how are brands keying in on exactly what customers want in their journey? Data, of course. With each passing day, brands have access to more customer data than at any point in history. Through a variety of sources including asking permission via forms and utilizing tracking tools, brands now have valuable insights into what customers want, how they want it, where they want it, what they’ll pay for it, and where they’ll go if they don’t get it.
With this data, brands are able to fine-tune the customer journey to better reflect the preferences and habits of their customers. When big data was still in its infancy, updating the customer journey was a challenge. Today, the best brands in the world excel at it thanks to an influx of data sources.
Data also shows what a monumental impact COVID-19 had on consumer behavior and buying patterns. While it had been popular for years, online shopping exploded in the wake of pandemic-related restrictions. Similarly, customers quickly adapted to delivery and curbside pickup options. In a survey from 2021, nearly half the respondents said the pandemic altered their shopping habits forever. This has had a monumental impact on the customer journey, as brands are forced to keep up with new preferences or risk losing customers.
Your customers will provide useful feedback along the way
In general, it’s tempting to jump onto the latest technologies and tools to stay ahead of the competition. Even if you don’t adopt every new piece of tech for your business, it’s appealing to maintain a position as a thought leader, up on the latest trends. The customer journey has certainly gone through drastic changes in the past few decades, from in-store activations like loyalty cards to personalized and highly-tailored goods made possible by 3D printing.
But it’s important to remember who is at the core of all this exciting change: human beings making decisions for their businesses, families, and themselves.
As you decide which new bells and whistles are a fit for your brand and customers, it’s essential that you avoid getting lost in the sauce of the trend du jour. Instead, focus on substance over style. Direct customer feedback should inform any major changes, as the goal remains meeting customers’ needs, not just checking the “innovation” box.
The most successful brands find ways to tactfully toe the line between useful technology and innovation-fueled noise that haphazardly clutters and confuses marketing efforts.
EGR International helps brands polish their customers’ journeys
The team at EGR has extensive experience in guiding our clients through customer journey analysis, mapping and improving campaigns. To get there, we use an assortment of tactics that combine digital platforms and in-person meetings and events. On the digital side, we develop narrative-driven campaigns that enrich the client’s bond with their customers — a natural conduit to an enhanced customer journey. But we also recognize the need for some clients to have face-to-face interactions with their customers and constituents, which is why we curate meetings that excite guests and deepen connections. When these services combine, the outcome is powerful for our clients and their customers.
Interested in working with EGR to improve your customers’ journeys? Contact us today.